The Pros and Cons of Building Websites with Third-Party Products


Like most industries, web design has changed quite a bit over time. In its early days, people put websites together using a very DIY process. Code was often written by hand in a simple text editor.

But as the industry evolved, so did the way we build sites. Many of the more manual portions of the process have been replaced by tools that bring added convenience and functionality.

For example, many designers prefer to use a CSS framework such as Bootstrap, rather than reinvent a new UI for each project. Likewise, it’s common practice to install a copy of WooCommerce as opposed to building a shopping cart from the ground up. Much like the assembly line forever changed the automotive industry, this massive array of available tools and assets have changed web design.

This power and convenience come with a lot of benefits. Yet, it can also put us into some very difficult situations. With that in mind, let’s explore the effect this has had on modern web design.

Rapid Development and Powerful Features

The old way of building websites was, even at it’s best, inefficient. Constructing everything from scratch (or even your own personal library of code) took up precious time and resources. Projects took longer to complete. Plus, complex functionality was beyond the reach of the average designer.

The fact that we now have at our disposal tens of thousands of free and low-cost pieces of software has leveled the playing field. It means that a solo freelancer can compete for bigger jobs or that a small-time developer can build something that could potentially be used by millions.

But it’s not just professionals who are benefitting. These days, even novices can clear these formerly formidable hurdles. For some, it might be as simple as installing an attractive WordPress theme and a selection of relevant plugins. Within a few hours, they can be selling their products and services online.

A large part of the design and development process is now picking and choosing which pieces we want to utilize. Everything from simple UI components to high-end functionality is within just about everyone’s reach.

A city skyline with motion blur.

What We Give Up

Whether it’s a hot new JavaScript library or an open source CMS, these tools increase efficiency and lower costs. This is great for democratizing the web, but has also lead us to a new set of potential risks and challenges, including:

Less Control

The tools we use to build websites make the process easier than ever. But the cost is often giving up a measure of control.

This is especially so when using closed, proprietary site building services. Unhappy with the service? You can certainly leave, but good luck taking your website along with you. If you want to move that same look and functionality elsewhere, it might mean starting from scratch.

Reliance on Others

A website that relies heavily on third-party tools and services (which appears to be the majority these days) is, in some part, at the mercy of others. That means when, for instance, your must-have WordPress plugin has a problem, there’s not much for a designer to do other than wait for a fix (and placate an impatient client).

In a worst-case scenario, perhaps that bug fix never comes. At that point, you’re stuck with something that doesn’t work and forced to find an alternative. While you may indeed find a suitable replacement, it’s still a frustrating experience.

Security and Privacy Risks

This also opens the door to potential privacy and security concerns, as well. We’ve already seen previously-safe software fall into the wrong hands and used for not-so-nice purposes. And the potential for further abuse is always there.

And while the vast majority of people behind these products are trying to do the right thing, the fear of a single bad actor is well-founded. The problem for anyone building a website is that it’s just impossible to know who to trust. Even if you think you’ve made the right choices, the situation is fluid and can change without notice.

Man holding a key in hand.

Good or Bad, the Game Has Changed

In some ways, it feels like a paradox. The very thing that makes our job easier can also add multiple layers of complexity. But that’s the new normal of modern web development.

Very few of us have the time or skills required to build everything ourselves. And, even those that do might think twice about attempting it. There is not only the factor of reinventing the wheel, but clients may not be crazy about the idea of a fully-bespoke solution, either.

That leads us to collecting various pieces from various places in an effort to make them all work together. It’s difficult, but it seems like the techniques for achieving a measure of harmony is steadily improving.

That’s good news, because it doesn’t look like this piecemeal approach will go away any time soon.

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